The Argus Farm Stop has three owners, husband-and-wife team Kathy Sample and Bill Brinkerhoff, and a third investor, Scott Fleck, but Sample is the presence you see. Tanned, hair in a braid, wearing loose-woven cotton and clogs, she looks like someone who hangs out at farmers’ markets, and she is. She also is a chemist with an MBA, a hard-nosed businesswoman with a few decades of corporate experience under her belt, and the one working on the floor to squeeze every last dime of profit out of this new market, not for stockholders, but for farmers.
She talked landlord Alex de Parry into giving her a good deal on the rent. “He’s building condos over there” next to the elegant Italianate mansion that was once the Moveable Feast. “A cute market across the street is in his best interest.” She’s making use of a surprisingly underutilized corporate structure called an L3C, a low-profit limited liability company. Farmers set their selling prices, and get 80 percent of the income. In September, tomatoes were selling for $2-$3/lb., Tantre Farm spinach for $3/bag, and Schwartz Farm eggs for $5/dozen. Sample hopes it works but says “frankly, we’re too busy learning how to be grocers to be thinking much about the big picture right now.”
“But let’s not make this the Bill and Kathy show,” she says, waving away their own fascinating biography. (Brinkerhoff is the son of former U-M VP Jim Brinkerhoff, who long ago worked nearby for the Argus camera company, hence the name.)
Much as farmers like interacting with customers at farmers’ markets, it’s an inefficient use of their time. The Farm Stop relieves the growers of being their own sales clerks. Past the bountiful harvest season, the Farm Stop will be open throughout the winter carrying locally produced meat, dairy, prepared foods, and baked goods. It’s also a coffee shop.
How are you supposed to park there, anyway? There’s some street parking, but cars pull up on site all higgledy-piggledy. “That’s fine!” Sample says. “In fact, we can’t draw lines. As soon as you draw lines, you have to make a site plan and deal with a whole new set of city regulations.”
Argus Farm Stop, 325 W. Liberty, 213-2200. Mon.-Fri. 7 a.m.-7 p.m., Sat. & Sun. 8 a.m.-6 p.m. argusfarmstop.com